Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Mom and Pop Operation

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Screenplay by Kelly Masterson

There are a few things this movie has going for it right off the bat, without having viewed a single frame. It's directed by Sidney Lumet, a man responsible for more than any director's allotment of classic movies. It stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, a man whose reputation as the best actor of his generation has finally solidified and come into focus over the last three or four years. The three primary supporting players (what an odd phrase that is) are Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, and Albert Finney, three actors who are solid and reliable no matter the film. So good does it look on paper, I was worried by the end of the first hour that it was going to be a let down.

I am hesitant to give away too much of the plot, so just know that it is an entry in the pantheon of heist-gone-wrong films. Kelly Masterson's masterful screenplay, which is unbelievably her first, makes use of interwoven flashbacks, revealing little details and answering little questions. I can't tell you much about the story, because there is a fantastic twist within the first ten minutes, and it's entirely reliant upon the viewer not knowing the rest of the movie.

The first hour of the film didn't strike me as anything more than an exceptionally well-executed genre exercise, but the second half is when it all comes together. The last twenty minutes had a greater hold on me than any movie I've seen in quite some time. I forgot I was watching a movie, and was completely enthralled. The actors and the writer created people who are all too human, and far too real, to make it a comfortable watch. The characters all go in with the best intentions- the heist that opens the movie is nothing like what it seems- but no one comes out unscarred. A truly fantastic movie.

Grade: A

1 comment:

Joe said...

It's Masterson's first produced screenplay, I'm sure. God knows how many works end up in the closet before something becomes of one.

The ultimate goal of theater is to make the audience forget they're watching a play, and to be so absorbed that they're not even conscious of their own existence outside the world of the play-- it's so much harder for a movie to be able to do that, and when one does it's undoubtedly the mark of quality. I'll look for it when I go out later tonight, or tomorrow.